An elephant’s-eye view of life, death and survival on the African plains.
Hey there, friend. Mind if I ask you a few quick questions? No? Well then, let’s get right down to it. Do you like elephants? Do you like Blu-ray? If you answered, “Yes, of course I do!” to both questions, perhaps you’ll be interested in Africa’s Elephant Kingdom, an IMAX film being brought to Blu-ray by the fine folks over at the Discovery Channel. Perhaps, mind you. I’ve been watching several of these hi-def IMAX films lately, and I have to say, Africa’s Elephant Kingdom is one of the less impressive outings I’ve witnessed. It’s a very simplistic documentary with some nice images, but it simply doesn’t linger afterwards.
The documentary is narrated by Avery Brooks. The narration is somewhat poorly handled, with Brooks offering first-person…er, first-elephant narration, with presumptuous statements like, “When I was a child living among the other elephants, I did not understand the mysterious ways of the elephant tribe.” However, as the documentary proceeds, this approach seems to fade in and out, as Brooks throws out statistics and information that an elephant would probably not be privy to. I know it’s just a gimmick, but the documentary would have been better off without it. The approach is distracting. Additionally, Brooks’ delivery is very portentous and humorless, and the obligatory guilt trip sequences are particularly tiresome: “There are many dangers, but there is no danger or creature that we elephants fear more than the savage beast known as ‘man.'” I know, I know, but could we be a little less dreary about it?
Complaints aside, Africa’s Elephant Kingdom does have some nice moments. There’s a rather sad sequence in which we watch poor baby elephants suffer at the hands of some brutal weather conditions. Speaking of which, there’s a lot of death in this documentary, which may bother some very young viewers (vultures eat dead elephants and such). The single most impressive image here is the remarkable shot of an angry mother elephant charging forward at full tilt, as a rather bold cameraman heads backwards desperately attempting to provide a steady, unbroken shot. Absolutely superb, really. There are also the usual impressive landscape shots, though the locations here are a bit less spectacular than one might hope.
The hi-def transfer is impressive throughout, really capturing a very rich level of detail. It seems at times as if you can see every little blade of grass; every nuance of the leathery elephant skin. Blacks are nice and deep, and the blue/green/brown color palette is presented with pleasing vibrance. The basic Dolby Digital audio is decent too, with the boisterous original score (a somewhat clichéd outing from composer Roger Mason) receiving a very strong mix. Brooks’ bass-heavy voice gently resonates throughout. Unfortunately, I find myself unable to recommend an upgrade for those who all ready own the original DVD release. You see, the DVD apparently contained a 52-minute making-of documentary in addition to some other special features. The making-of docs are typically very valuable bonuses on these IMAX flicks, but alas, this releases offers absolutely nothing in the way of supplemental material. Zip, zilch, nada.
This is a perfectly acceptable little elephant documentary, but I don’t think it’s worth spending sixteen or seventeen bucks on. Wait a couple of years until it starts turning up in discount Blu-ray bins. Even then, only pick it up if you don’t care about missing out on the extras. A disappointment.